A Matter of Preference

Lobsters? Lobsters. David Wallace sure knows how to pick them. In the namesake essay “Consider The Lobster”, Wallace’s journalistic style drifts back to land after spending sometime away on the Nadir of “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”, and reaches the annual Maine Lobster Festival among feverish carnivores prepared to inhale upwards of 25,000 pounds of lobster flesh. The MLF understandably falls into opposition with PETA proponents, or those who find the ‘Being Boiled Hurts’ view of a higher ethicality. Like all of the other pieces of nonfiction Wallace has been recruited to write, “Consider The Lobster” focuses a great deal on the ethical implications of human consumption. In the end, Wallace’s journalistic endeavor turns into a discussion of personal ethics and presence/lack of thought that goes into eating another sentient life form. Though, I found “Consider The Lobster” to differ from Wallace’s previous topics. One way this piece differs is in the way he specifies his discussion. Instead of focusing solely on consumption or tourism, “Consider The Lobster” seeks to understand the ways in which awareness and thoughtfulness factor into the act of consumption.

One of the ways in which he specifies his discussion is in his choice to focus on the lobster as an instrument of consumption. Lobster is a delicacy, a product of the sea harvested for the human palette to enjoy. While Illinois fair junk food and cruise ship buffets are certainly interesting sites of people eating food, there’s something comparatively profounder about Wallace’s choice to focus on this particular gentrified crustacean. And so, Wallace’s personal preference in a lot of ways mirrors the preference that’s at the heart of the troubling questions that “arise amid all the laughter and saltation and community pride” at the MLF (253). Wallace writes, “the whole animal-cruelty-and-eating issue is not just complex, it’s uncomfortable. It is at any rate, uncomfortable for me, and for just about everyone I know who enjoys a variety of foods and yet does not want to see herself as cruel or unfeeling” (246). I found this passage to be really interesting because it not only acknowledges the discomfort that arises out of our preference over what we consume, but Wallace also lets us know that he himself is uncomfortable even talking about it.

Wallace continues to provide us with personal information as he talks about his approach when it comes to this whole ‘animal-cruelty-and-eating issue’. Wallace prefers to “avoid thinking about the whole unpleasant thing” (246). Moreover, he defends his own carnivorous behavior on the grounds that he has self interest in mind and has failed to work out “any sort of personal ethic system in which the belief is truly defensible instead of just selfishly convenient” (253). Wallace makes his personal preference and the reasoning behind it clear. I found that a lot of what Wallace chooses to expose complements the presence of the PETA proponents and in a way softens the details of the all the “other ways to kill your lobster on-site” (249).

The series of questions Wallace finishes with managed to summarize a lot of the questions I had in mind as I read “Consider The Lobster”. For me, he manages to turn a cultural gathering into a site of ethical debate into a platform for cerebral inquiry when he poses questions such as, “is your refusal to think about any of this the product of actual thought, or is it just that you don’t want to think about it?” (254). In the end, I felt as if Wallace manages to expose the connection between preference and the factors of conscious/unconscious thought. Though this connection isn’t one every really reconciled of fully understood, it boils down to matter of preference.

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